College of Graduate Studies

ACDE learning from African experiences

African experiences in the provision of open, distance and e-learning (ODeL) education have not only been rendered imperative to the development of the African continent, but are crucial to what the continent seeks to achieve to increase access to education and training in Africa.

The two-day conference of the African Council for Distance Education (ACDE), held from 3 to 4 September 2018 at Unisa’s Main Campus in Pretoria, emphasised the need for collaborative effort and the shared approaches to the enhancement of higher education with a particular emphasis on distance learning. The ACDE is the continental educational organisation comprising of African universities and other higher education institutions committed to expanding access to quality education and training through open and distance learning. The conference saw the attendance of a number vice-chancellors from across the continent to share institutional progress reports on the implementation of open, distance and e-learning. 

Delegates attending the conference

‘Traditional collaborations no longer relevant’

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC), who hosted the conference, addressed the conference on the pertinent issues currently facing the higher education sector. ‘Even though Unisa is currently hosting a number of events to affirm its vision of being the African university shaping futures in the service of humanity, it is a university currently under massive transformation,’ he said. ‘Unisa has recognised the trends taking place and has noted with particular interest that the review of higher education is now inward looking. The declining socio-economic conditions and volatile politics are making it increasingly evident that older, more traditional dependencies and collaborations are no longer certain or relevant to current educational needs.’

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor

The VC said that the time had perhaps come to forge new relationships and collaborations that are intent on serving better the neighbours and friends whose education strategies are more closely aligned with those of Unisa and the country. ‘The ACDE is meeting on a collaborative imperative which is in the provision of greater access to education and to add Africa’s voice to open distance and e-learning globally, he said. ‘Furthering higher education on the continent by solving African problems from African perspectives while taking into consideration the rapid digitisation and the impending fourth industrial revolution was a common sentiment shared. This will enable us to have opportunities and benefits for the majority of citizens. The revolution will effectively close up spaces but open up new vistas to explore, examine and apply. This is where open, distance and e-learning can play a role. Leveraging our resources and capacities to lay down the ground work for ODeL, access to technology, reliance on the affordances of technology will assure access to a large number students and it will at the same time equip students with skills to make them productive before they join the world of work.’

Different demographics call for different solutions

Dr Diane Parker, Deputy Director-General, representing the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, reflected on the current issues in the education landscape and said: “Over and above the rapid rise of the fourth revolution, there was a change in the demographics of students that are entering the distance learning market. The pertinent question is how do we do things differently as these demographics change.’

Increasingly, younger students are entering the open distance market and require different levels of support. Dr Parker stated further the need to change delivery models in distance learning and curricula to enable students to progress in learning modules, understand access to interact effectively with students at a distance, develop academics to fully understand their students and to support disadvantaged students, which is done differently in contact universities.     

Prof Abdel Raouf AA Elbadawi, President of the ACDE

Dr Diane Parker, Deputy Director-General of the DHET

Dr Parker said that there were imperatives that higher education could consider in addressing current educational needs. ‘These would be preparing graduates to be adequately skilled and productive, integrating digital technology with simulated learning experiences and the use of other social media platforms, changing the current setting through research, introducing programmes in African contexts, reconfiguring institutions in the most effective ways and addressing the absence of female representation in higher education.’

It was clear at the end of the two-day conference that there is a need to collaborate more and in a number of ways in order to secure the future of education and that of the continent. ‘ODeL is a common good,’ concluded the VC, ‘and we want to contribute to its realisation on our continent. We have to bear in mind that the future does not belong to us. It belongs to those who we are educating and shaping right now.’

By Busi Mahlangu

Publish date: 2018/09/13